Rain rain go away. The clennell colossus of 2017 would turn out to be a damp affair both in the setting up and the action on the day. Some hardy riders turned up and made the magic happen at the beautiful Clennell Hall Country House.
Casting our memories back 12 months the conditions in 2016 were just horrendous. Never in June I have seen clouds all the day down in the valley with 10 metre visibility for just about the entire day. Fingers, legs various other body parts were all crossed hoping the same didn’t happen this year. Setting up the course in the preceeding 3 days showed exactly what the Cheviots are all about. Wednesday: clear and sunny. Thursday: torrential rain. Friday: couldn’t make it’s mind up if it wanted to rain or have sun. In all those days we bumped into precisely no-one, not a single other person out in the hills!
Friday became a mad rush of collecting t-shirts, numbers, beers and various other stuff then get back and finish setting up the marquee. By 10pm all was just about in place and many folk had arrived to take advantage of the free camping. The pub got a healthy number of people through the doors and the smell of bbq was wafting through the air. Mmmmm meat. Everyone fell asleep to the pitter patter of rain.
Saturday morning and the alarm resonates through my skull at 5am with yet another day with a ridiculously early start. What sounded like heavy rain was drumming down against the canvas of our tent. Oh joy. With a full day on a quad bike coming up I could expect to get severely damp. Planning for this several layers were piled on. Stepping outside the precipitation was not as bad as it sounded which was a bonus.
Final prep now went into play with water sorted, sound system turned on, numbers written out (100 were missing!) and so on. Some super keen cyclist turned up just aftr 6am and got signed up. Debby Mortimore, Joanne Richardson and Allison Kemp sorted people out. I wondered if they just went straight back to bed after that. Some serious z’s were being kicked out in the tents as the snoring could be heard in the marquee. At least I hope it was snoring and not someone trying to choke a pig.
Clearly mountain bikers know how to time their arrival. Between 6am and 7am there was next to no-one pickingup their nnumbers. When the clock ticked 7am the cars started flowing down the road and the joy of parking began. Clipping was under way at the farm so the improvised car park was the red road near the farm using pretty much every available bit of space going. It was good to see some familiar faces on the scene but not good when they were telling me tales of how bad the weather was just 20 miles away and the wind was blowing in this direction. Gulp.
Sign-in came to an end and the marshals headed off out into position. Some were just down the road and others were off to the far end of nowhere for the day. The quad bike got fired into life and put-putted to the car park. The safety briefing was very short and then the final ten minute wait just seemed to drag on for ages. Nervous anticipation was palpable in the air but whether that was from us or the riders I’m not sure. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and they’re off!
The bikes were all led off by the quad. There were a few reaons for this. If people didn’t get the last second change to the gpx file they may have wandered off to the side. Secondly, the route signing was being checked as we went. Lastly, there was a major medical incident last year early doors and we were determined to keep a close eye on the early stages.
The riders soon stretched out on the red forest track and became a long snake slithering its way up the valley. After this nice and gentle warm up everyone was met by Debby Mortimore holding open the first gate. She had the joy of seeing people look left to the hill they were about to climb and see the blood drain out of their faces. The rocky beginning caught a few out but soon enough people were in the rythm and grinding away up the hillside. Heart rates would have rocketed here and eventually when everyone reached the top they had to circulate around the edge of a grassy field starting with some nice singletrack overlooking Clennell Hall.
Soon the route hooked up with the ancient drovers road of Clennell Street. It’s grassy surface made that bit more hard-going by the rain that had been falling in the previous days. In fact it was up here were the rain had wind assistance and hit the riders hard on the exposed fells. I am guessing some people thought they were in for very long days at this point. Soon enough the peleton reached the first split point. Paul Kemp and the paramedic waited for them in the Land Cruiser. The short route carried on up Clennell Street whilst the long route carried off into a grassy abyss over The Knocks and swooping down a fast and smooth descent down to a glorious singletrack traverse to Shillmoor.
I took up position high on the hills above and watched as the pace slowed whilst cracked grinded away up the Copper Snouth track, hauling themselves once again up to Clennell Street. Eventually these long riders would regain the right track and hook up with the short short route. This union would be temporary as everyone crawled up a short bank to be met by George Wilson who one again split the pack. The short rout carried on straight to the first checkpoint whereas the long route had to tackle the joys of Kidland forest first.
The long route got to enjoy a fast, 2 mile long forest track that took them all the way to the forest valley once more. A few people went a bit off piste here as they followed a walking route set out by the Mountain Rescue event. Luckily it was a small diversion as they could see other riders on the right track and soon got back on it. That road is one where people regularly hit 40mph+ but then finishes with a tasty sharp left turn which I’m hoping caught no-one out.
Now the foresttrack led the riders into the depths of Kidland forest. A place used for harvesting and not often visited it’s trees watch over people as they glide through. Ignoring the Whiteburnshank turning everyone had to go a little further until they hit the water stop at the foot of the Milkhope climb. Helen Kemp and Chris Ford topped up supplies and then gave everyone prophecies of doom about the fortcoming hill. Lowest gear would have been engaged, look down at front wheel and just keep pressing down on the pedals!
I love the view as the top of the Milkhope climb is reached. The trees give way to more far off vistas, other riders behind can be seen far below and the old farmstead of Milkhope is tucked into the trees behind you, hold untold stories of the past. Now that the riders were higher up they could make good progress on the hard packed ground that logging trucks use. A few miles into this increased pace they were met with a little fun section that took them off up the side of a hill, had to manage some technical riding between tree stumps and then came back down only to be faced with an arrow pointing into some tyre tracks. This old logging machinery track undulated whilst going parrallel to the forest track, occasionally splattering people with some deep muddy ruts. I can only imagine the inner joy as everyone popped out back onto the solid red track at the end.
There was a lot of red track action to follow with a seriously fast descent followed by switch backs getting back up onto th ehigh ground. It was around this time that the cloud dropped further as the riders went high up near the summit of Bloodybush some 2 or 3 miles before the checkpoint. Eventually all the riders wouldhaul themselves up to the tent pitched out on the far end of nowhere that was the checkpoint. Yvonne Kemp and Eileen Wilson occupied this spot alongside a couple of mountain rescue people. This veritable cake emporium allowed people to take stock of the situation, refuel and then get back on it.
The tent checkpoint was the spot where the long and the short hooked up once more. By this time the short riders were well off into the distance. Michael Lumb set off after them like a whippet, smiling all the way. Peter Squires was hot on his heels but his ride soon came to an end after two punctures dropped his pace and he waited for wife Jane so he could annoy her for the rest of the ride.
Both routes headed north from the checkpoint. Rumbling through the last of Kidland they soon popped out high above Usway Burn. This high speed, sweeping drop down into the valley takes nerver to do quickly with it’s off camber corners and blind summits. I spotted a lot of people taking the more sensible approach witha bit of brake action. Hopping over the bridge at the bottom they were greeted by a wicked little bank to get to Jim Imber at the final split point of the day. The short route hooked left and towards Trows whilst the long climbed up and onwards to Uswayford Forest.
Uswayford forest is a pretty special place in its own right. Not often visited by people, this is one of the most remote of the already remote Cheviot locations. Swaying trees tower high on either side and the road goes upwards. A right turn hooks you up with a glorious cross country ride on Salters Road through Davidsons Linn. A twisting track leads you down to a bridge and then a nasty tight switchback of a corner is covered with larger stones and desperately tries to get your foot down. Once through all of this there is a massive ride back to Salters Road entrance, all in the shadow of Cairn Hill and Cheviot staring down at the riders.
Popping out of the Uswayford Forest everyone would have been able to clearly see the summit of Windy Gyle in the distance. Instead of heading directly for this the course turned left and took up the route of Clennell street south on a grassy and lumpy track. Strewn with puddles, some deep ones at that, riders were forced to pay attention. Eventually the grassy madness ended at Hazely Law with a rough and rocky descent back to the main junction with Jim and rejoined the short route heading down towards Trows.
It was around early afternoon that the rain decided it would play the game and abate. Views opened up and through the course of the afternoon the cloud level lifted. I did give a chuckle that it didn’t lift enough to clear the tops as Alan Wilson and Dave Smalls were stuck on summits all day and could see precisely nothing!
Trows to Windy Gyle. I’m pretty sure everyone would have read about this before the event and those who had not done it before had a certain amount of trepidation. Turning at the ford rider were faced with a gate then just a steep hill navigating the first bulky hill of the day. If your legs survived that then things leveled off somewhat but unfortunately the real task in hand was coming closer and looming ever larger. The final push up to the summit of Windy Gyle must surely have been just that – a push. This requires dry conditions and strong legs to clear it and the dry conditions were certainly not present on this day. At the top Alan Wilson was hiding in the cairn out of the wind waiting for you. His non-existent views for the day did get better for the final ten minutes of his stay
Now all the riders had figured out why it’s called Windy Gyle. Strong gusts blew in across the ridge and several riders were blown clean off their bikes as they headed across to The Street. Once on this return route the wind was still so hard that many people had to ride DOWN into it. As the altitude dropped so did the wind and by the time people had reached the road down to Barrowburn they looked a bit like those cartoon characters with wide eyes and hair on end following an electric shock.
Kathryn and Scott are new farmers at Barrowbrun and due to them living in the house they decided not to carry on the cafe there. However, they decided to support the event and get in a shed load of pasties, sausage rolls, crisps and drinks. The first few fast riders flew straight through but the vast bulk stopped for a good feed and reassessment of life choices. Marshals Brian Kemp and Oliver kept everyone going and helped people if needed. All of those who purchased stuff you have directly helped a farming family in this remote Coquet valley and I thank you for that.
2 big climbs left. No-one would believe it but off they went anyway. Passing serenely by the pigs and beside The Deer Hut and Camping Barn there was a little drop which only aided the severity of the climb up to the Fairhaugh gate. A steep and relentless grassy track that eventually levels off near the top and opens up another fantastic vista in the National Park. Through a snall gate and then clamber over the forestry tracks before ploughing down to the small the bridge behind the white building of Fairhaugh. Paul Eggleston Brown awaited riders to point them in the right direction.
The “right direct” resulted in a punishing final climb of the day. Riding out of Fairhaugh is a solid forest track which is good for traction. Converse to thsi is th gradient which is like being repeatedly whacked in the face with a salmon until eventually gravity wins and a push is the best option. With legs well and truly shot the riders turned right at the top and made their way back to the tent checkpoint. No matter how many times people were told that “it’s all level or down for the next 4 miles” absolutely no-one believed it! For those that arrived here in the later afternoon it became bathed in glorious sunshine with views far off along the border ridge. The kind of views where you could sit and watch for hours and the sun and clouds dance over the landscape.
The return journey from the checkpoint really was being a bit too kind. A nice solid track followed by some small ascents but overall riders were going further and further down into the valley back to Clennell. A final reveral of the initial grassy field was rewarded with a super fast drop into the Alwin valley and then a gently roll back to Clennell Hall. Job done.
Crossing the line back into the marquee numbers were logged for the timing and then bikes were ceremoniously thrown to the floor as riders collapsed from the joy of it all being over. A lovely technical t-shirt, free beer and a chewy bar were reward for a long day in the saddle. Many people at meals in the hotel or sat round in the beer garden drinking beer as the sun shone down. It was great to see so many people investing in the local economy and at the end of the day these kind of places are absolutely dependent upon your generorsity.
At around 8pm the last riders crawled in, beaming smiles on their faces but legs well and truly beaten to a pulp. Feedback from all riders seems very positive and hopefully everyone will leave with great memories of a hard day out in the Cheviots. You’ve benefited the local economy and apart from one knackered shoulder you all came back intact. Thanks to everyone for turning up and to all the marshals who made the event happen. See you agan soon.